Taiwan and the Prospects for War Between China and America | The Diplomat
The textbook answer is straightforward. China seeks a secure second (retaliatory) strike capability that will serve to deter an American first strike. As China argues, it has a “no-nuclear-first policy” which makes its arsenal purely defensive – while its other capabilities such as cyber are offensive.
Potential nuclear adversaries including Russia, India, and the United States are fully aware that China’s investment in advanced warheads and ballistic missile delivery systems bring Delhi, Moscow, and, soon, Washington within reach of the “East Wind.” While not a nuclear peer competitor to either Russia or the U.S., China is rapidly catching up as it builds an estimated 30-50 new nuclear warheads each year.
While American leaders may find such a sentiment unfounded, the PRC has a strong fear that the United States will use its nuclear arsenal as a tool to blackmail (coerce) China into taking or not taking a number of actions that are against its interests. China’s fears are not unfounded. Unlike China, the United States maintains an ambiguous use-policy in order to provide maximum flexibility.
As declassified government documents from the 1970s clearly show, the United States certainly planned to use overwhelming nuclear force early in a European conflict with the Soviet Union. Given American nuclear superiority and its positioning of ballistic missile defenses in Asia, ostensibly to defend against a North Korean attack, China sees its position and ability to deter the United States as vulnerable.